Cuisine

IN THE COLD WAR bestseller Gorky Park, the villain, at an upscale New York restaurant with the hero-detective, makes a short speech about the true tragedy of the Soviet Union’s 20th century: the destruction, by Communism, of Russian cuisine. Since it follows another villainous anecdote about the Siege of Leningrad, Martin Cruz-Smith is really leaning into sardonicism at that point. Aaron Timms’ Salt Fat Acid Defeat in N+1 is excellent and you should read it, and makes the same point more seriously (and angrily): that restaurant culture is shitty to exactly the extent our broader culture is, kitchens and food cultures change faster than we think, and that we can do better.

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Delivery

MY OFFICE IS IN Newtown in Sydney, so I get to see the ingenuity and suffering of delivery riders on every variety of two-wheeled vehicle. It goes without saying that the work is among the worst paid, most dangerous, and most unpleasant, ways to make a living. What I’ve become interested in lately though is the sheer badness of the actual electric bikes, scooters, and motorbikes the riders use, because they’re bad in specific ways. Look closely and you’ll see cable ties holding them together, bald tyres, evidence of collisions, dropped bikes, wires exposed, just every variation of jerry-rigged cheap fix. They’re cheap bikes, flogged all day, and given exactly, and only, the amount of repair and maintenance needed to keep them running.

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Church

THE INNER WEST COUNCIL has declined to list a church as locally significant on its ‘Schedule 5’ register of items of local heritage, a statutory instrument. It’s interesting for what it reveals about the objects and practices of Australian built heritage.

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Courtiers

WHEN HE WAS MINISTER for Immigration (1972—1974), ‘Al’ Grassby had one dedicated staffer to assist him in his portfolio duties, and that was a secretary-receptionist-typist. How things change. In the last few decades, and at an accelerating rate, the numbers of unelected ‘staffers’ attached to Ministers, as well as electorate staff, has massively increased in Australian Parliaments. We are now at the point where the working and social world of staffers form their own societies attached to State Governments and the Federal Government in Canberra, an opaque one, closed to outsiders, self-regarding and self-contained, but with enormous importance for its effects on the rest of us. And as was shown in Monday’s Four Corners episode, it behaves, when it thinks it thinks it can’t be seen, with genuinely disgusting misogyny and self-entitlement.

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Chainsaws

TREES ARE RARELY ASSESSED as significant cultural heritage in Australia; the bar is too high. When a project manager gets on the blower and asks ‘now listen, but is it heritage?’, a professional applies the standard frameworks of his or her calling, and decides—with a standardised process—either a yes/no significance answer, or a level of significance (from ‘little’ to ‘exceptional’). Human involvement in the thing or place is the most important: places where historical events happened, buildings made by specific people, artefacts of a known history. The reason trees rarely meet the ‘but is it heritage?’ test is because they’re ephemeral by nature, growing and reproducing themselves and dying by themselves, without people needing to be involved. ‘Cultural landscapes’, the fashion of the 2000s, remedy part of the question of individual trees by seeing the forests, but there’s generally no such thing as a ‘heritage tree’. You see the problem already.

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